Fish in food systems in Nigeria: A review

In Nigeria, like many coastal developing countries, fish is an important source of food for the population, which is currently estimated at 186 million people (World Bank 2016). A recent study estimated that Nigeria ranks third globally for the number of people dependent on coastal fisheries for food and nutrition security, and the demand for fish is growing, alongside growth in population and incomes. However, household fish consumption in Nigeria—measured at 13.3 kg/capita/year—is low compared with the world’s average of 20.3 kg/capita/year (FAO 2018). This national average likely masks a much lower average among resourcelimited and vulnerable population groups as well as a notable supply-demand gap. Increased fish production and consumption may contribute to alleviating food and nutrition insecurity. The majority of households in Nigeria (58%) suffer from chronic or transitory food insecurity (Ogundari 2017). In 2016, 14.3 million people in Nigeria were classified as undernourished (FAOSTAT 2017). An average of 67% of children aged 6–23 months living with their mothers did not eat foods rich in iron, and 52% did not eat vitamin A-rich foods in a 24-hour diet recall (NPC and ICF 2014). As a result, fish—which is rich in micronutrients such as zinc, iron, iodine, calcium, vitamin B12 and vitamin A, as well as essential fatty acids and protein—could play an instrumental role in attaining food and nutrition security. Consumer behavior and demographic drivers. Complex sociocultural and behavioral factors influence fish consumption. Food taboos, and community and household perceptions of different species of fish also affect decisions around fish consumption. In Nigeria, households in the southern region eat more fish than those in the northern region. Similarly, household fish consumption is higher in urban than rural areas, and people of higher socioeconomic status consume fish more often than those of lower status. As incomes grow in Nigeria, demand for fish is predicted to increase. Missing from the nationally representative data on fish consumption is information on the species consumed. A variety of species are eaten in Nigeria, including crayfish, sardines (freshwater and saltwater), bonga and mackerel, as well as cultured fish species, such as tilapia, carp and catfish. Food taboos influence fish consumption in Nigeria, especially the dietary behaviors of pregnant women in some groups. For example, pregnant women are advised not to eat the head of dried salted cod (stock fish) because it is believed that if they do, their children will look like stock fish. These practices, though important to society and culture, can lead to misconceptions and undervaluation of the nutritional quality of foods. Taste, texture and convenience-based preferences are also significant factors to consider when analyzing consumer behavior. For instance, people of high socioeconomic status are more likely to purchase fresh fish. Individuals who value convenience favor dried fish, as it needs little time for preparation (IPSOS 2016). Nigeria’s vast inland water bodies and coastline measure over 800 km and support nearly 1.5 million people engaged in fish-based livelihoods (FAO 2007; WorldFish 2017b). Nigeria produces around 1 million t of fish per year: over 750,000 t from capture fisheries and roughly 310,000 t from aquaculture (WorldFish 2017b). However, the role of aquaculture in Nigeria is growing, as the sector is becoming increasingly economically and politically incentivized. As of 2012, over 13,000 people were employed in aquaculture, though only 2% were women (FAO 2017b). Aquaculture, which is mostly monoculture of large species like catfish and tilapia, is seen as a pathway through which Nigeria can close its existing fish supply-demand gap. Culturing more fish species would widen the nutrient diversity to feed the growing population. Aquaculture in general, however, can help meet the demand for fish domestically; over 600,000 t of fish—primarily marine fish—are imported per year to meet the demand of Nigeria’s growing population (FAO 2007; Igoni-Egweke 2018). In Nigeria, fish is commonly processed, mostly by women, using traditional postharvest techniques to preserve, improve flavor and add value to the fish. Common processing techniques include salting, sun-drying, smoking and frying. These methods vary among the individuals involved, depending on infrastructure, fish species, knowledge and wealth. Other value addition products have been documented, such as fish cakes and fish cake burgers made from shrimp by-catch, and developed by fishers as an entrepreneurial endeavor (DFID and FAO 2002). There is no indication that the products were made with the intention of providing nutritional benefits or whether they were locally accepted. The government of Nigeria is interested in promoting nutrition-sensitive agriculture and aquaculture, but programs remain resource-constrained. However, nongovernmental organizations (NGO) are supporting the Ministry of Health, via the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network, to assist small and medium enterprises to become more nutrition-sensitive. This is part of Nigeria’s efforts to address the multiple burdens of malnutrition through the private sector, of which fisheries and aquaculture could play a large part. From the public sector perspective, fish for optimum nutrition could be communicated more clearly to the population, as Nigeria’s food-based dietary guidelines mention fish only briefly. From this review, the following areas of research were identified to strengthen the food systems in Nigeria to deliver fish for optimum nutrition. These research gaps were identified prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, they are still relevant, and perhaps more so, given the reliance on fish for food and nutrition security in Nigeria. • status of fish consumption at the species level, disaggregated by state, sex, age and household income • affordability of fish throughout the value chain • modifications in the nutrient profile of fish during various processing and preparation methods • nutrient analysis of small pelagic inland fish species and species with high potential for aquaculture • common practices for using fish in complementary feeding and in intrahousehold consumption of fish • use of fish by-products for value-added products in women’s enterprises • alternatives for fishmeal and fish oil in aquaculture feeds to redirect more fish for human consumption • effects of climate change on communities dependent on fish, as well as on fish species diversity, supply and consumption.


Bradley, B., Byrd, K.A., Atkins, M., Isa, S., Akintola, S.L., Fakoya, K.A., Ene-Obong, H., Thilsted, S. (2020)